Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Between Winchester and Barkhamsted

Gilbert clocks
Let’s start with…

The Gilbert Clock Shop

Riley Whiting was born on January 16, 1785, in Winsted, Connecticut.  Two weeks after his twenty-first birthday in 1806, he married Urania Hoadley, from Waterbury, Connecticut. In 1813 he formed, with Urania’s brother Samuel, the company of Hoadley & Whiting, which went to work manufacturing clocks. When Whiting died in 1835, his wife and his son kept the company going until it was bought out by Lucius Clarke and William Lewis Gilbert in 1841. Gilbert had begun his clock-making career at the age of 22. Over the years, with a number of partners, he formed what would eventually become the William L. Gilbert Clock Company in 1871 and eventually, after weathering the recession, the William L. Gilbert Clock Corporation in 1934. The company’s clocks are now heirlooms. “The clock shop,” as the factory was known to Winsted locals, became one of the world’s largest clock companies around the turn of the 20th century. Financial difficulties of the last dozen or so years, exacerbated by the flood of 1955, forced them to sell out to Spartus Corporation of Chicago in 1964 for half a million dollars. By that time, they had been making clocks for 151 years.

For a more detailed history, click here.  

Winchester, Barkhamsted, Winsted

The town of Winchester, in Northwestern Connecticut was incorporated in 1771. The neighboring town to the East is Barkhamsted. It was incorporated eight years later. Both are located in Litchfield County. Barkhamsted’s population of 3799 souls is 97.5% white, down from 98.54% white a decade earlier, .3% black, .6% Asian, 1.5% Hispanic of all races. Winchester’s population of 11,242 is only 94.44% white, making it more cosmopolitan than Barkhamsted.  For every 100 females in the town of Winchester there are only 94 males, which although a boon for homosexuals, makes it necessary for many in the hetero population to seek partners from out of town.

The Wikipedia page for Winchester, Connecticut lists only one notable person, a certain Phineas Miner, born in Winchester in 1777. Phineas represented his district in the State House for many years from 1809 until 1829 when he was elected to the State Senate as an Anti-Jacksonian, i.e., pro-John Adams. The following year the Democratic-Republican Party to which both Adams and Jackson had belonged, split. Jackson’s supporters took the name Democratic; Adams’ supporters became the National Republicans. Phineas Miner left Winchester early on in his career as a lawyer and moved to Litchfield, where he is buried in the town’s East Burying Ground.

Settlers moved into the area between Winchester and Barkhamsted, at the confluence of the Still and the Mad Rivers in 1750, within the township of Winchester. The area put the “win” of “Winchester” together with the “sted” of “Barkhamsted”.  And in 1792 the Winsted Manufacturing company began manufacturing scythes. Other factories followed and Winsted became a prosperous town of the industrial revolution.

The town is known, among other things, for its Civil War Monument to the Union Army, its oil-on-canvas post office mural painted in 1938, its five stone churches, and the fact that Winsted nearly went bankrupt and had to close its schools when the city's Finance Director, Henry Centrella, was found to have bilked the town of 2.2 million dollars.  And, to folks of my generation and the previous one who are still alive, the flood of 1955.

The flood

Main Street, 1911. The buildings on the right (south)
side of the street (the ones remaining in 1955)
were all washed away in the flood.
In 1955, Winsted was hit by two hurricanes, Hurricane Connie on August 12-13, and then Hurricane Diane five days later. Connie and Diane dumped a million tons of water per square mile on parts of the state, including Winsted (although Winsted was not the worst hit). The Mad River, which runs along Winsted’s Main Street, climbed its banks and the buildings that survived on the river (south) side of Main Street were torn down and never rebuilt.  My father was among those hauling victims out just above the raging waters on very shaky ropes. Very exciting stuff for a fifteen-year old to see one's dad become a heroic figure in an instant. I spent the next several days bleaching utensils for the free meals we were handing out to survivors with my Aunt Connie. 

David Halberstam

Pulitzer Prize winner David Halberstam grew up in Winsted and was a classmate of Ralph Nader. Known for his coverage of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, Halberstam travelled for a time with Martin Luther King to Berkeley for an article he published in Harper's. Criticized by conservatives during the Vietnam years for his insistence that the war was an American moral tragedy, Halberstam held to the view that it was American hubris that led to defeat, and that Japan and Germany would one day beat out the USA economically. Halberstam died in a car accident in Menlo Park, California, in 2007.

The Naders

Rose Bouziane was born to a sheep broker and a teacher in Zahlé, Lebanon in 1906. She married Nathra Nader in 1925 and the two emigrated for political reasons and came to Winsted where, after working in a textile mill for a time they set up Nathra’s General Store/Bakery/Restaurant in the center of town. When Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush (George W. Bush’s grandfather) came to town after the 1955 flood, Rose managed to grab his hand and hold it until she got him to promise to build a dam, so Winsted would not have to suffer such destruction again. The dam got built.

The Gilbert School, as it appeared in 1910
I shook Prescott's hand once, as well. In front of my school, during one of his senatorial campaigns as he whistle-stopped the town and we were all allowed out to see him. Rumors had not reached my teenage ears that the Bush family fortune on which its dynasty is based came from cooperating with German companies funding Hitler, so I thought myself lucky to get my picture taken with the senator.

The Gilbert School was founded in 1895, as one of three "endowed New England town academies" (the other two are Norwich Free Academy and Woodstock Academy). It's private, and the town pays an annual tuition for each pupil who attends. It serves as the town's only high school. I was given to understand that for a time it wouldn't take catholic kids because Gilbert had specified no kids would come from "St. Joseph School," the local Roman Catholic parochial school, but St. Joseph solved the problem by changing its name to St. Francis [correction: St. Anthony – thanks, Dori]. I am more skeptical these days than I was then, and tried, without success, to corroborate that story. Must check with the town historian at the next opportunity.

Rose and Nathra had four children, Shafeek (born 1926), Claire (born 1928), Laura (born 1930), and baby Ralph (born 1934). Shafeek is remembered locally chiefly for his work in founding Northwestern Connecticut Community College, which occupied the William L. Gilbert School, the building where I spent my high school years. After his death, the Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest was formed, and the foundation is currently run by his sister, Claire.

The Gilbert School today, in its new incarnation - Northwestern
Connecticut Community College
Claire has a Ph.D. from Columbia in Political Science. Over the years she built a career in teaching (New York City Community College, 1956), and civil defense research (Oak Ridge National Laboratory (1960s). She joined the board of directors of the Council of Responsible Genetics (1990s) and became editor of Sage Publications. She has a long list of publications in controlling environmental health hazards, toxic substances and trade secrecy.

Laura was the first woman to receive a tenure-track position in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley where she was hired in 1960.  She credits her older brother Shafeek with her interest in anthropology. Her PhD is from Radcliffe/Harvard. She has a wide range of interests, including a comparative ethnography of law, conflict resolution, and the nature of power and control. She is known for her advocacy of “studying up,” i.e., focusing less on “primitive people” and “the colonized” and more on the culture of affluence rather than the culture of poverty. She is a critic of the “ideology of harmony,” and argues the pursuit of harmony often interferes with the pursuit of justice.

Ralph was educated at Princeton and Harvard and came to prominence with his Unsafe at Any Speed in 1965. His activism, along with seven of his loyal followers recruited in 1968, known as “Nader’s Raiders,” is credited with such legislation as the Clean Water Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. He is the author of more than two dozen books, the subject of the film, an An Unreasonable Man. Throughout the 70s, he became a leader in the anti-nuclear power movement, which eventually grew into an organization with hundreds of local affiliates and 200,000 supporters.

Nader is known for his view that the U.S. presidential race comes down to a choice “between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” At least that’s how he described the choice between Bush and Gore. Pushed to choose, he said he hoped Bush would win because the democratic party needed the “cold shower.” Despite a study by the Progressive Review in 2002, which concluded that Nader was not a spoiler in the race between Bush and Gore, many are convinced of the contrary. The best that can be said for his presidential runs is probably that they expose the weakness of America’s two-party system, which is characterized by political machines and the will of the folks with the most money.

In 2015, Nader opened the American Museum of Tort Law on Main Street in Winsted.

Nader supported the candidacy of Donald Trump, insisting the greater good was the breakup of the two-party system, which he felt a Trump victory would initiate.

Ralph graduated from The Gilbert School in 1951, seven years before me, so I never got to know him, even though I spent quite a lot of time at the Nader restaurant after school. Nader received a scholarship to Princeton, which his father refused to let him accept, arguing that he could afford to pay his own way and free the money up for a student who really needed it.

Because of his publication on the dangerous condition of General Motors automobiles, GM hired prostitutes and tried to blackmail him. But Ralph reported these efforts to Senator Abe Ribicoff, whom he was working for at the time, and Ribicoff was able to sue GM CEO James Roche for invasion of privacy. Nader took the $425,000 award and used it to found the Center for the Study of Responsive Law.

Ralph never married and has never been seen with a date, male or female. He earns a good deal from investments, but lives on $25,000 a year, donating the rest to his various causes. He was raised in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He suffers from Bell’s Palsy. He once appeared on Sesame Street, forcing them to change the word “who” in their song “a person who you meet each day” to “whom.”


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